Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pushing a graphics card into a Xen VM, Part 1

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

One of the eternal bummers for Linux fanboys is the paucity of games for Linux. This is, in part, because Linux is not an operating system, Linux is a toolkit for building operating systems -- and each operating system built with the Linux toolkit is different, but all of them claim to be "Linux". Well, from a game designer's perspective there is no such thing as "Linux" -- each of the variants puts files in different places, each of the variants has a different way of configuring X11, and so forth. And talking about X11, that's another issue. Mark Shuttleworth got a lot of heat for saying that desktop Linux was never going to be competitive as long as it was saddled with the decades of fail that are X11, when he proposed moving Ubuntu Linux to Wayland. But the only Unix variant that has ever gotten any traction on the desktop -- Mac OS X -- did so by abandoning X11 and going to their own lighter-weight GUI library that forced a common interface upon all programs that ran on the platform (except for ported X11 programs, which were made deliberately ugly by the Mac OS X11 server that ran on top of the native UI in order to encourage people to port them to the native UI). Linux fanboys might talk about how OpenGL over X11 isn't theoretically incapable of handling gaming demands, etc. etc., but the proof is in the pudding -- if it's so easy, why isn't anybody doing it?

So anyhow, one of the interesting things about the Intransa Video Appliance is that it looks like Windows if you sit down at the console... but behind the scenes, it's actually VMware on top of a Linux-based storage system. So why not, I wondered, just push the entire video subsystem into Windows via VT-d? I mean, it's not as if Linux user interfaces run any slower remotely displayed over VNC than they do locally, they're pretty light-weight by modern standards. So if you could push the display, keyboard, and mouse into a Windows virtual machine that was started up pretty much as soon as enough of Linux was up and going to support it, you could have a decently fast gaming machine, *and* have a good Linux development and virtualization server -- all on the same box.

So, I assembled my selection of operating systems and started at it. I assembled the bleeding edge of Linux -- Ubuntu 10.10,Fedora 14, Citrix XenServer 5.6.0, ProxMox VE version 1.6, and OpenSUSE 11.3, and set to work seeing what I could do with them...

Next up: Part 2: The distributions.


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